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Milwaukee residents win higher court costs in sewer suit

By: Beth Kevit, [email protected]//March 21, 2014//

Milwaukee residents win higher court costs in sewer suit

By: Beth Kevit, [email protected]//March 21, 2014//

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A group of 181 Milwaukee residents who successfully sued the city after raw sewage flooded their basements in 2008 won a second victory Friday by convincing a judge to increase amounts awarded for court costs.

Heavy flooding on June 7 and 8, 2008, caused about $23 million in damage to homes owned by the plaintiffs, according to city estimates. As much as 4 feet of sewage surged into some of the basements.

The residents, who live in the Lincoln Creek and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, sued the city, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Veolia Water Milwaukee LLC and Veolia’s Delaware-based parent company in 2009. The MMSD and the Veolia firms settled with the residents in June 2013.

In September, a jury determined Milwaukee, the MMSD and the Veolia firms all were negligent in maintaining and operating the sewer system, which failed to prevent the basement flooding. The jury awarded the residents $1,491,000 in damages.

However, because the other parties had settled and because the jury found the city only 33.67 percent liable, the residents stand to collect $548,240.70 in damages once Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley’s judgment is finalized.

That judgment could not be finalized, however, until the dispute over court costs was settled.

The residents had requested $452,905.92 to cover costs, which included attorney’s fees, expert witness fees and other costs incurred during the trial.

But the initial judgment included only $27,050.73 for those costs.

The difference between the requested and awarded costs stemmed largely from the question of whether attorney’s and expert witness fees, which have statutory caps, could be assessed for each plaintiff or only once.

Barry White, an attorney with Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP representing the residents, argued Friday that those fees should be assessed for each of the 181 plaintiffs.

Jan Smokowicz, assistant city attorney for Milwaukee, disagreed that the expert witness award should be increased, arguing during the hearing Friday that some of those witnesses did not perform individually tailored analyses of property damage. Therefore, he said, the residents should receive less money to pay for those experts’ services.

However, Foley agreed with White, awarding the maximum amount allowed per plaintiff under state statute. He also assessed the attorney’s fees individually but awarded less than what White had requested.

That means the 181 residents will be awarded $54,300 to pay for their representation, White said, and $271,797.32 to pay their five expert witnesses.

Foley also agreed to award $14,595 to pay for a software licensing fee White had to pay in order to access and interpret MMSD records and to award $344.38 for postage costs, which had been disputed.

In sum, the judge awarded the plaintiffs $377,991.16, according to numbers provided by White, who will draft the amended judgment for Foley to approve.


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